Senior Transportation Ministry staff will present a plan to Transportation Minister Miri Regev by the end of the week on how to “shrink” construction and maintenance work on Israel Railways tracks on Shabbat, Regev’s office said Sunday in a statement.
The meeting, which Deputy Transportation Minister Uri Maklev attended, came after Construction and Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, the chairman of United Torah Judaism, sent an urgent letter to Regev on Sunday morning, demanding her immediate involvement in halting railway construction on Shabbat.
Construction work on an Israel Railways track along Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv on Saturday was brought to Goldknopf’s attention. In the letter to Regev, he said the work contradicts the coalition agreements signed between UTJ and the Likud.
רכבת ישראל. עבודות בשבת. ממשלת ימין חרדים מלא מלא. הנה לכם צביעות pic.twitter.com/zrGeqvamhU— טלי בן עובדיה (@talibo8) January 7, 2023
Goldknopf said the work was conducted as part of agreements reached during the previous government’s tenure, to the best of his understanding, and he demanded that Regev cancel these agreements.
“We cannot accept the continuation of this situation,” he wrote.
According to Regev’s statement, she said during the meeting that the status quo regarding construction work on Saturdays would remain as it did under the previous governments led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. These include work that can be considered “lifesaving” because they are meant to ensure that the tracks are safe.
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The decision on approving work on Shabbat currently resides in a branch of the Economy Ministry, and according to ministry officials, these decisions were made ahead of time on a yearly basis and would not change, Channel 12 reported Sunday.
In response to Goldknopf’s letter, former transportation minister Merav Michaeli, the leader of the Labor Party, said: “The cost of stopping work on the railway system on Shabbat [is] tremendous harm to the public who use the trains and public transportation. As transportation minister, I made a decision to actually increase work on Shabbat. This is how we finished a large part of the railway electrification project earlier than expected and got the trains to the North back up and running. I call on Regev not to concede to Goldknopf’s delusional demands.”
At a press conference later in the day, she said: “This government is not only a government that seeks to eliminate democracy, it is the government of traffic jams.”
“The new threat is Goldknopf’s new, delusional and far-fetched extortion,” Michaeli said. “If Netanyahu and Regev succumb to it, they will get us all stuck in traffic jams and will harm, above all, the most vulnerable parts of our society.
“If work on the railways is canceled on Shabbat, it will mean serious harm to the entire Israeli public – but first and foremost to those in the periphery.
“Netanyahu and Regev repeatedly bear the name of the periphery in vain, but here they are the ones who are harming the periphery, because the first ones who won’t be able to travel are those living in the North and the South.
“On my watch, I increased work on Shabbat, and the evidence speaks for itself: The trains to the North returned a year earlier than planned. This is how it should be done; this is the right way to do it. But the Netanyahu/Regev/Smotritch/Ben-Gvir government is impeding the State of Israel in every aspect and every facet of life.
“When we come back, and we will come back, we will remind them how to really work for the Israeli public, and not against it,” Michaeli said.
Former finance minister Avigdor Liberman, the chairman of Yisrael Beytenu, wrote on Twitter: “Once again, haredi wheeler-dealers are dictating to the entire public what is right and what is not. Stopping train-track construction work on Shabbat is an absurd step that will directly affect Israel’s economy and many Israeli families who use public transportation. Someone in the government needs to wake up and stop this madness.”
“Once again, haredi wheeler-dealers are dictating to the entire public what is right and what is not. Stopping train-track construction work on Shabbat is an absurd step that will directly affect Israel’s economy and many Israeli families who use public transportation. Someone in the government needs to wake up and stop this madness.”Avigdor Liberman
Some criticism came from within the Likud as well.
Likud MK Danny Danon wrote on Twitter: “I greatly respect our haredi brothers, our partners to the coalition and government. We all have the responsibility to work together on behalf of all of the citizens of Israel. Shutting down the train on workdays will cause much suffering to hundreds of thousands of people and will cost the economy billions of shekels in a time of recession. I expect our partners to work together with us in order to find the appropriate solutions. We must not harm the citizens of Israel.”
Uri Keidar, the CEO of liberal NGO Yisrael Hofsheet, said in a statement: “The Gerrer Rebbe’s representatives should not be allowed to ruin public transportation for everyone. The new government was just formed, and already we are seeing its most extreme components setting the pace, with the blessing of extremist rabbis who are going to harm all of our public transportation and then send us to pay the bill.